Usage of allergy codes in primary care electronic health records: a national evaluation in Scotland

Allergy. 2016 Nov;71(11):1594-1602. doi: 10.1111/all.12928. Epub 2016 Jun 3.


Background: The UK's NHS intends to move from the current Read code system to the international, detailed Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine Clinical Terms (SNOMED-CT) to facilitate more clinically appropriate coding of conditions and associated risk factors and outcomes. Given concerns about coding behaviour of general practitioners, we sought to study the current coding patterns in allergies and identify lessons for the future migration to SNOMED-CT.

Methods: Data from 2 014 551 primary care consultations in over 100 000 patients with one or more of 11 potentially allergic diseases (anaphylaxis, angioedema, asthma, conjunctivitis, drug allergies, eczema, food allergy, rhinitis, urticaria, venom allergy and other probable allergic disorders) from the Scottish Primary Care Clinical Informatics Unit Research (PCCIU-R) database were descriptively analysed and visualized to understand Read code usage patterns.

Results: We identified 352 Read codes for these allergic diseases, but only 36 codes (10%) were used in 95% of consultations; 73 codes (21%) were never used. Half of all usage was for Quality and Outcomes Framework codes for asthma. Despite 149 detailed codes (42%) being available for allergic triggers, these were infrequently used.

Conclusions: This analysis of Read codes use suggests that introduction of the more detailed SNOMED-CT, in isolation, will not improve the quality of allergy coding in Scottish primary care. The introduction of SNOMED-CT should be accompanied by initiatives aimed at improving coding quality, such as the definition of terms/codes, the availability of terminology browsers, a recommended list of codes and mechanisms to incentivize detailed coding of the condition and the underlying allergic trigger.

Keywords: allergy; coding; primary care; read codes; systematized nomenclature of medicine clinical terms.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Coding*
  • Electronic Health Records*
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / diagnosis
  • Hypersensitivity / epidemiology*
  • Population Surveillance
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Scotland / epidemiology